As the long-awaited eighth and final season of the world's biggest television show approaches, Joanna Hunkin travels to London to interview the cast.
It's 8.30 on a Tuesday morning in central London. On the upper floor of a terribly posh hotel (I'm not allowed to tell you which one), dozens of journalists begin the check-in process for what will probably be the biggest press day held this year.
The event, which has become an annual occurrence, is bigger than ever, as the world's biggest TV show approaches its final run. Outside it is bleak and grey; a typical February morning in London.
Winter is here.
One by one, we report to the team of publicists, citing our name, country of origin and publication. The atmosphere is one of cheerful chaos.
The event has taken over an entire floor of the hotel, with bedrooms cleared of furniture and turned into makeshift studios and interview rooms. Over the course of the day, more than 100 journalists – both print and broadcast - will interview the cast of Game of Thrones (with a few notable absences; Kit Harrington, Lena Heady and Peter Dinklage are not taking part.)
The day is split into two sessions, with most outlets only given access to half the day – and half the cast. The New Zealand Herald, possibly by virtue of having travelled so far to be here, has been given full access.
By the end of the day, I will have interviewed 18 cast members and collected more than three-and-a-half hours of audio. That's approximately 35,000 words once transcribed, a thought that makes me want to run screaming from the building if I think about it for too long.
Instead, I focus on the key task at hand. Getting a good seat. The print interviews are set up as round tables – which quite literally take place at a round table in the middle of an empty hotel room. There are five rooms running across each of the two sessions, with 10 to 11 journalists squeezed around each table.
Most of the talent is paired – except for Emilia Clarke (who plays Daenerys Targaryen) and Gwendoline Christie (Brienne of Tarth), who are doing solo sessions. Add to that at least two HBO handlers, who oversee every interview, and you have a minimum of 13 people in the room. By the end of the day, the room is stifling, unable to cope with the collective body heat, in a room designed for two occupants.
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The success of these days and how much you get out of them relies almost solely on your fellow journalists. At best, you will get to ask two questions yourself. The rest of your content comes from other people. And if they dominate the conversation, or worse, piss off the talent, you're sunk.
Seating is critical. You want to secure a position that allows direct eye contact with the talent. It will help you get in ahead of the rest of the room. The talent always sits closest to the door and the experienced journalists make a beeline for the seats directly opposite.
Ideally, you also want to have a clear line of vision to the door and hallway. This allows you to see the talent approaching and observe their banter, body language and wardrobe. The rookies get left behind and end up sitting next to the talent, who rarely turn their way.
As we wait for our first interview of the day – Emilia Clarke – we quickly establish some rules of engagement. Everyone agrees not to ask questions about the plot. We all know they can't say anything and it's a waste of time.
I'm lucky, this group is a good one, with journalists from Paris Match and Polish Vogue, among others. Even better, there's no sign of The German.
Three years ago, at this same event, I experienced the toe-curling horror of a man (who I later discovered was infamous among the European press pack) who asked hideously inappropriate and awkward questions, while using the "language barrier" as an excuse to annoy the talent.
At the time, he asked 18-year-old Maisie Williams (Arya Stark) how puberty had affected her while on Game of Thrones. As the whole room looked on in horror, he continued to press the point, repeating "my readers really want to know".
He is the worst, and everyone lives in fear he'll turn up in their group. Thankfully, not this year.
A little before 10am, Emilia arrives, bubbling with energy and looking fresh for the first interview of the day. She laughs as she describes reading the scripts for the final season, describing the experience as "a total head f***".
All is going swimmingly until about seven minutes in when an Aussie journalist asks a question about nudity.
Emilia is exasperated ("always this question!") but goes on to reply eloquently. The Aussie interrupts, insisting it's a strong theme. Emilia is having none of it.
A back and forth ensues, with another journalist jumping in to try and smooth the waters before the issue is finally laid to rest, four minutes later. That's 20 per cent of our interview time wasted.
Afterwards, there is a debrief. The Aussie is embarrassed. She remains noticeably quiet throughout the following interviews.
The rest of the morning passes without incident. Gemma Whelan (Yara Greyjoy) and Iain Glen (Jorah Mormont) are quiet but considered. Jacob Anderson (Grey Worm) and Joe Dempsie (Gendry) lad about like over-excited schoolboys. Nikolaj Coster-Waldau (Jamie Lannister) and Jerome Flynn (Bronn) are thoughtful and charismatic.
The final session of the morning is John Bradley (Samwell Tarly) and Hannah Murray (Gilly). To be honest, I'd forgotten Gilly was still alive. Hannah has little to say and spends most of the interview stirring honey into a cup of hot water. John is great and gives some of the day's most insightful answers.
In between each of these interviews, various publicists and handlers enter the room to announce who will be next and how long until they arrive. Not once does this information turn out to be accurate.
Everyone becomes too afraid to leave the room or go to the toilet (an awkward affair that involves using the in-room bathroom, less than three feet from the interview table, behind a sliding, frosted-glass door).
As the morning session ends, we're told to pack up and leave the room. We have a 40-minute break until the afternoon session. I have just made it back to the registration area when a panicked publicist grabs me and tells me I have to get back in the room for the next interview, which is happening now.
The afternoon descends into frazzled chaos. The immaculately groomed publicists who greeted us this morning have pulled their hair into messy topknots as they rush around the maze of corridors trying to regain order.
Despite the earlier panic, Gwendoline Christie doesn't arrive for another 25 minutes. My stomach is rumbling but I dare not leave the room.
From the moment she enters, Gwendoline is captivating. She is tall and graceful and speaks in the most delightfully theatrical manner that means you don't realise what utter nonsense she is saying.
Another publicist enters the room and orders us to stay put. Our next interview is coming. Is there time for a quick toilet break? Absolutely not.
Half an hour later, Carice Van Houten (Melisandre) and Conleth Hill (Lord Varys) arrive, followed by Liam Cunningham (Ser Davos) and Richard Dormer (Beric Dondarrion). It's not until after the interview ends that I work out who Richard Dormer plays. He is unrecognisable. Also, I think I blocked his entire storyline from my memory.
We're finally released from the room to get some lunch only to discover there is none left. It's after three o'clock. We return to the room and learn the whole afternoon schedule has been abandoned and a new makeshift system has been scrawled in Vivid on the back of a clipboard.
And then we wait. One plucky young journalist, who has failed to endear herself to the group after asking a series of useless questions about voice dubbing, announces she doesn't usually do "showbiz" interviews. She normally writes about human rights.
I hate her instantly. Also, no one under the age of 70 refers to entertainment as showbiz. Fact.
God, I'm hangry!
A charming French journalist rolls her eyes and starts asking me about New Zealand. She would love to visit one day. Her husband is Australian and they plan to spend six months of the year there and six months in Paris. But only once he's better. He has cancer.
Her humanity brings me back to reality. I really need to get over myself.
The day ends in a flurry with our final two interviews. Rory McCann (The Hound) and Kristofer Hivju (Tormund Giantsbane) lift everyone's spirits with their dry humour, before Maisie Williams and Sophie Turner (Sansa Stark) do a charming double act, bantering with one another and doing their best to answer questions they have almost certainly been asked at least 12 times today.
And then it's done. Nine hours and 35,000 words later. Game (of Thrones) over.
• Game of Thrones season eight premieres on Sky Soho on Monday, April 15.